Florida’s Pelicans and Spoonbills

Almost no matter where you travel the diversity of birds found can’t help but inspire a feeling of awe. For us this feeling has been heightened by the many hours spent observing bird behavior in their various habitats.

The Hillsborough River in Florida is a great place to observe birds by canoe.

To the casual observer many birds will be seen and then quickly dismissed with the thought, “another little brown bird” or if it’s something spectacular, “that’s a cool bird!” The birds in this post will get the attention of even the most casual observer. For us they are endlessly fascinating.

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In doing a little research on the Roseate Spoonbill, the only spoonbill found in Florida, we were surprised to find that it is a member of a family of spoonbills including the: Eurasian spoonbillBlack-faced spoonbillAfrican spoonbillRoyal spoonbill, and Yellow-billed Spoonbill. The spoonbills curious feeding technique involves moving it’s partially open bill from side to side in shallow water until something edible is detected and then closing the “trap”.  As can be seen from some of the shots below the appearance of males in breeding plumage can be striking.

Spoonbill and a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Spoonbill pair.

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Male in breeding plumage.

Affectionate touch, (Donna).

Spoonbill with Ibis.

Making a point!

Beautiful from any angle!

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The Brown Pelican is another bird commonly seen in Florida, most often near saltwater. It’s easy to dismiss when compared it to it’s larger cousin the White Pelican but a closer look reveals it’s unique beauty. Like a large tern, we often see them plunging into to water after prey with some impact and a large splash.

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Taking flight.

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Taking flight.

Stretch!

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In flight the White Pelican is arguably the most majestic and beautiful bird we see. Flying in formation, their large size gives the impression of a graceful slow motion aerial dance.

A size comparison between a White Pelican and a spoonbill. The spoonbill is not a small bird!

 

***, (Donna)

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White Pelicans gather in shallow water. Note the size of the one brown pelican in the picture.

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One pelican, apparently with no great effort, comes up with quite a mouthful while the others not seeming to care continue to preen. It took quite some time to get the fish properly orientated and then swallowed.

Gators and pelicans are often in close proximity.

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Unlike the beauty of the much smaller birds such as warblers, no binoculars or special equipment is required to appreciate spoonbills and pelicans. They are a gift of nature to us all.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

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An Early Spring Paddle

In recent days bird activity betrays the fact that from a distance the landscape is still more reminiscent of a snowless winter day than spring. Hearing but not seeing any first of the season migrating warblers we’ve nonetheless been entertained by other birds engaged in spring preparations or just passing through.

Eastern Phoebe

White-throated Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker

It’s a male!

Female Cardinal.

An illusive Brown Creeper

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It’s not just the sight and sound of birds, but the call of spring peepers in low lying flooded areas, that bring music to the day. Much easier to see but not nearly as vocal, bullfrogs are also present. Under budding bare branches in wooded areas a closer look around our feet reveals spring wildflowers sparkling in last year’s leaf litter.

Spring Beauty

Bloodroot, (Donna)

Twinleaf, (Donna)

Bullfrog

The very small flowers of Harbinger of Spring, (Donna)

Dutchman’s Breeches, (Donna).

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Recently, after arriving at a local park, a magic moment occurred when a large group of White Pelicans were spotted overhead on their way north. Something we don’t recall ever seeing in central Ohio before. By the time cameras left their bags, etc., there was time for just one shot before the birds were obscured by nearby trees.

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The chocolate milk color of water in most central Ohio reservoirs says spring and offers proof of recent heavy rains and runoff from yet to be planted farm fields. However, yesterday we ignored the water’s uninviting color, given that it was an otherwise a perfect day, and launched the canoe to go exploring. As we headed out, numerous Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Bonaparte’s Gulls continued to feed on small dead or dying shad (as they have for the last couple of weeks), while turtles took advantage of the warm sun.

Almost ready to launch on Griggs Reservoir in our fast 18ft Sawyer Cruiser.

Red Eared Sliders enjoy the sun, (Donna).

Many trees are starting to leaf out. There were very few boats on the reservoir for a Saturday.

Great Egrets in breeding plumage, (Donna).

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This large beaver lodge has been at the north end of Griggs Reservoir for years.

A lighter Red Eared Slider and a Map Turtle.

My wife had numerous opportunities to photograph Wood Ducks during our paddle. This was one of her best shots.

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So hopefully warbler spring migrant pictures will grace the pages of a blog in the near future but in the mean time we’ll continue to celebrate all of the other things seen.

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Stay safe and as always, thanks for stopping by

Two Small Herons

Over the years watching birds has become a meditation. Something that draws us out of ourselves into the embrace of a larger sacred world and a heightened awareness of the importance of, and kinship with, all life.

A canoe is a useful tool for birding in Florida.

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Two birds that have enchanted us, ever since we started our yearly winter pilgrimage from central Ohio to Florida, are the Tricolored and Little Blue Heron. These similarly sized birds are considerably smaller than their larger cousin the more majestic Great Blue Heron. The Tricolored, with it’s running, hopping, and crouching behavior, is the more active and comical of the two and it can be found foraging anywhere the water depth permits. Generally the Little Blue, with it’s slower movements, is a quiet stalker as it works it’s way along shoreline grasses and overhanging branches looking above and below the water’s surface for edible items.

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Tricolored Heron:

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Little Blue Heron:

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Immature Little Blue Heron with a Tricolored.

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Not long after this picture was taken, high in a tree near waters edge, an anole became a midmorning snack.

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The Tricolored and Little Blue Heron can be found throughout Florida and fortunately for bird lovers are not hard to find. During our recent travels in that state we were blessed with numerous opportunities to observe and enjoy these birds.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

A Feast For The Gulls

Usually this time of the year in central Ohio we’re busy looking for the earliest spring wildflowers such as the uncommon Snow Trillium.

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But we also walk along the local reservoirs (Griggs and O’Shaughnessy Reservoir) hoping to see migrating waterfowl. Recently we weren’t disappointed when three inches of rain shocked area waterways resulting in thousands of dead or dying shad. It was a banquet for Bonaparte’s Gulls passing through the area and an excellent opportunity to observe these beautiful birds.

Immature, non-breeding and breeding Bonaparte’s Gulls.

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Bonaparte’s Gull, (Donna)

Adult breeding Bonaparte’s Gull.

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A few larger Ring-billed Gulls were also getting into the act.

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Not to miss out on the easy meal Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons were also present.

Great Egret, (Donna).

Great Blue Heron, (Donna)

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Fish die-offs, particularly shad, are not that uncommon in reservoirs. However, this is the first time we’ve happened upon such a feeding frenzy.

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We hope this post finds everyone doing well. Thanks for stopping by.

Black-necked Stilt

The winters in central Ohio are usually not harsh but their dreariness more than makes up for it. Now, being in a position where we don’t have to, we see little reason to endure the gray dampness so we look to sunnier and warmer climes. Florida is usually our destination and the two months spent in the various state parks end up being a true celebration of nature. 

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Myakka River

Whether on foot or in the canoe most days are filled with anticipation at what we might experience or see. Some days are more rewarding than others but we’re never disappointed. One bird that never fails to enchant us with it’s whimsical behavior is the Black-necked Stilt. We’ve found them to be fairly common in the fresh water areas we frequent, particularly as we travel further south in Florida. The pictures below were taken at Myakka River SP walking along the river or from the canoe.

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With all that’s going on in the world right now it was nice to have an opportunity to look back at pictures of such a beautiful bird. It’s hoped that, after a brief visit, followers of this blog will leave with a smile.

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We go through our lives with the illusion of control when all we can ever do is celebrate the moment.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

What Are They Eating?

We love watching the behavior of the birds at our front yard feeders. Each species seems to have a slightly different style for relieving a feeder of it’s contents. Chickadees fly off to a nearby branch with just one seed, then, while holding it between feet and branch, devour it before returning for another. It would seem that this method expends more energy than is consumed but apparently not. House sparrows are at the other extreme. They make expectant squirrels on the ground below happy as they gorge themselves, scattering seeds everywhere, and bickering with each other the whole time. However, even though we enjoy the feeders, we have found the foraging behavior of birds in their natural habitats to be the most fascinating.

Observers of golden-crowned kinglets know they are constantly in motion. They flutter from branch to branch, sometimes landing sometimes not, grabbing food items that are often too small to see. So on a winter day with temperatures well below freezing what are they finding on the many small nondescript branches, some less than a quarter inch in diameter? If they were probing crevasses in gnarly tree bark it might be easier to guess. Cornell Lab, All About Birds says; In winter the kinglets also eat small amounts of seeds and may forage in brush piles and under-story trees. .   .   .   Golden-crowned Kinglets forage in similar parts of a tree as Ruby-crowned Kinglets and chickadees.” Since, even when studied with the binoculars, the branches appeared to contain no seeds or dormant insects, the menu items were only obvious to them. A mystery not completely solved.

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Later the same day, we watch a downy woodpecker work over a small branch. In this case it was a little easier to see what was going on but in some ways no less mysterious. An obvious hole had been made in the branch but certainly no insects would be living below it’s very thin bark. Was the bird after tree sap? Again referring to All About Birds; Downy Woodpeckers eat mainly insects, including beetle larvae that live inside wood or tree bark as well as ants and caterpillars. They eat pest insects including corn earworm, tent caterpillars, bark beetles, and apple borers. About a quarter of their diet consists of plant material, particularly berries, acorns, and grains.”  Since tree sap wasn’t mentioned we’ll have to consider it an unsubstantiated best guess.

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A few days later, it was dull and drab but warmer. Perhaps warm enough to wake dormant insects. Along the rain swollen river bluebirds were perched on the low branches of a sycamore looking for any movement on the ground or in the air. They occasionally swooped to the ground and grabbed something (an insect or a seed?) and then returned to their perch. In the mystery, what ever they found was good enough because tomorrow we will see them again.

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Thanks for stopping by.

A Stage Perfectly Set

On a long urban hike to work off the transgressions of the holidays, the morning was dark, cold, and wet, with light rain trying to turn to snow, and wind periodically gusting to remind one that it was colder than originally thought. Heading for the park through quiet residential streets, I wondered if any of the small friends that often inhabit the trees and brush along the river, would be there to greet me.

Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, Easter Bluebird, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing.

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Perhaps it was the chill and dreariness of the day, kept at bay by the pace of my stride, until, pausing for a time, I was warmed by the sight of such seemingly delicate creatures “cheerfully” going about their business. I do not know for sure. But in the contrast of the moment I was captured by their magic. A play of pure joy and color acted out against the seasons dull colors of gray and brown on a stage perfectly set.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Gulls On Ice

Ring-billed Gulls are not uncommon in central Ohio but yesterday they caught our attention in a setting that was just a bit out of the ordinary. Warm weather and an ice covered reservoir resulted in a thin covering of water on the ice. The gulls seems to be enjoying it!

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***, (Donna)

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***, (Donna)

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

Celebrating The Season

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, I wished for a white Christmas and hoped the snow, with periodic additions of fresh whiteness, would stick around until spring. While my wish was never completely realized, being 150 miles north of where I live now, winter was a more satisfying if not tiring experience.

(Images may be clicked on for a better view)

The low December light pierces the open canopy revealing patterns in leaves and the geometry of trees and river.

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A few days ago, we woke up to a light covering of white. We rushed down to our local city park before too many foot steps marred it’s beauty. Now, despite colder temperatures, the snow is mostly gone, the victim of wind and sublimation. Winters are like that in central Ohio. Cold temperatures, when they come, often leave the dry, naked, and shivering landscape wishing for a warm white blanket. But while not a paradise for lovers of snow, for those willing to venture out and look carefully, this time of year provides an opportunity to enjoy a subtle beauty and be entertained by creatures making this place their winter home.

With snow, the forms of water and trees becomes sublime.

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It was very faint but unmistakable. You know how woodpeckers can be. Looking up into branches in the adjacent woods, it seemed hopeless. How about just looking for dead branches  .   .   .

Working on a warm winter home?

A female Downy works away.

. . . as the male goofs off on a nearby branch.

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Quiet early winter morning along the Scioto.

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One advantage to living in an area subject to cold temperatures, but with little snow, is that ice is free to express itself.

Small icicles and patterns in ice.

Interesting shapes form as river levels recede, (Donna).

Near the river, a small frozen pool, and solstice ice.

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In the summer we don’t notice as many Eastern Bluebirds, a gift of the colder months?

Male Eastern Bluebird, (Donna).

Taking flight.

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Not far from their downriver nest, Bald Eagles are seen more often along the reservoir this time of year.

Perched across the reservoir and too far away for a really good shot..

Doing it’s best to avoid a photograph.

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At river’s edge, the roots of a sycamore struggle to maintain their hold.

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With the reservoir frozen, a pair of Hooded Mergansers were spotted in the open water of the river just below the dam. Eventually, if the reservoir stays ice covered, they will be joined by Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and other waterfowl not commonly seen in the area.

Hooded Mergansers on the Scioto River.

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These images were taken before realizing that the White-breasted Nuthatch it was eating lichen. An unexpected revelation.

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A quick look through the binoculars revealed it to be a Mockingbird which was a real treat as we couldn’t remember the last time one was seen in the park   .   .   .  then, one very average photo, and it was gone.

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There are a countless number of American Robins in the park this time of year. They are everywhere, and with their antics provide endless entertainment.

***, (Donna).

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Brown Creepers are not easy to spot. Sometimes their faint call is heard before they are seen. Their erratic movement make them a difficult subject to photograph.

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While working on a dead branch, this male red-bellied woodpecker really showed off it’s red head.

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Other local residents, as will as migrants from the north, have also entertained us in the last few days.

Tufted-titmouse, (Donna).

Carolina Chickadee, (Donna).

White-throated Sparrows can be found in Ohio in the winter but call the forests across Canada, the northeastern U.S., and the northern Midwest their summer home.

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A fox squirrel ran up the tree and hid just as I walked up causing my wife to miss a “good” picture. She had to make due with the image below.

***, (Donna).

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Winter along the Scioto River.

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This morning while standing in front of our church greeting incoming worshipers, a ruby-crowned kinglet flew into a nearby evergreen, paused for a moment as if to look my way, then flew off. Enchanted by what was an unusual occurrence, I had an extra big smile for the next group of parishioners. In nature the usual can also become enchanting, and in that enchantment, we may lose ourselves and in doing so find that we have become part of something much greater.  We wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year!

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Thanks for stopping by.

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A Rare Bird

From time to time during our walks close to home we see a rare bird. Two days ago we were excited to see an American Kestrel in an undeveloped area south of Duranceaux Park which is located on the west side of Griggs Reservoir. A particular treat as this small falcon has been in decline in recent years. As with many birds this is most likely due to the destruction of suitable habit. In years past, when more time was spent bicycling Ohio’s quiet rural roads, this small robin size bird was seen on a regular basis, sometimes in the middle of a “lunch” consisting of a field mouse, but always taking flight from the roadside power lines before one could get very close. If not perched, they were often seen hovering over an adjacent field waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey. 

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***, (Donna).

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Much more common than the American Kestrel, a number of Red-tailed Hawks have been seen recently. 

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Some of the more usual suspects have also graced us with their presence, providing an affirmation that much is well with the world. We’re endlessly fascinated by their behavior as they go about the day making a living in the trees and low lying brush of Griggs Reservoir Park. 

Female Northern Cardinal

Male Eastern Bluebird, (Donna).

Red-bellied Woodpecker, (Donna).

Song Sparrow

Cedar Waxwing, (Donna).

Downy Woodpecker

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During this stark, seemingly lifeless, time of year it’s not always easy to be optimistic about what will be seen when heading into the woods. But even in December’s landscape we seldom return home with empty hearts.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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